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'Tell me your story'

By Mike Peters | China Daily | Updated: 2012-10-07 11:53

'Tell me your story'

Jules Page interviewing locals in the Tibet autonomous region. Provided to China Daily

An amiable Australian radio host never tires of hearing about expats' adventures - or having her own, Mike Peters discovers.

From her perch in the Beijing studios of China Radio International, Julianne "Jules" Page has heard plenty of tales about the lives of foreigners in China.

"Well, let's see," she says, frowning briefly as she calculates. "About 200, I think." But she insists that she's never bored as she chats up yet another guest on "Expat Tales", a short segment on her weekly "Life in China" program on CRI's English Service.

"Each of us has our own story," says the cheerful Melbourne native as she pulls off her headset. "It does take a certain kind of person to be an expat, but that said, there are a lot of different types."

Page has interviewed folks doing all kinds of things, from the entrepreneur founder of Gung Ho pizza and wine importers, to art critics, pilots and journalists.

In fact, she's just recorded a 12-minute chat with me a sort of game of "I'll tell you my story if you'll tell me yours".

Page has been in China for nine years, and like most of her guests she's not watching the clock or the calendar. The vast majority of expats come because they "feel the draw of China and always exceed the time they planned to stay here," she says, laughing. "Most of them have no idea, really, when they will return 'home' ."

One advantage expats have, consciously or unconsciously, is that "you can always go home". But there's a smile on her lips as she says it, a hint perhaps that many foreigners find themselves at home here before they really realize it.

Page is "fanatical" about Australian Rules Football, she says, but she has also embraced ping-pong since she's been here. When she's not working she also enjoys music and travel.

There's plenty left for her to do and see here, she says, and she's made an investment in learning Chinese. Early in her China stint she took a year off to study Mandarin in Hangzhou, and today she still relishes the struggle to master the language.

"I'm not even close," she says with a shrug. But she can't let language get in her way, she adds, and she won't get better unless she's using it. That's why she feels that she never stops talking when she's preparing a report "from the field", whether that means chatting with Tibetan women in Lhasa as best she can or cajoling an antique toy maker in Beijing to show her how his handmade contraption works.

After more than 15 years as a senior producer and presenter with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and other networks in Melbourne, she opted for a radical change and came to China by a common route: She was hired as an English teacher. But her radio experience in Australia and eagerness to see the world made her fit right in at CRI, where she prepares reports for China Now, a daily three-hour program.

The award-winning show airs live from 2 to 5 pm Monday to Friday, and each edition contains more than 10 segments, including A Day in the Life, Culture Voyage, Real China, Bookshelf, Blogbite, Expat Tales, Hangout, Chinese Kitchen, and Trend Detective.

On the air, her tone is interested but her voice is modulated, professional. When you follow her through the studio door, however, she's talking in capital letters.

"I've done a HUGE range of reports and interviews," she says, "from looking at China's rising pet industry, to literary festivals, to tourism growth, China's coffee industry and cricket in China, stories about the Terracotta Warriors and the Great Wall.

"I've also seen and learned how cashmere and lanterns are made, visited hot springs, flower markets, kite festivals, and interviewed musicians and artists, both Chinese and foreign. I've been to museums of ALL descriptions," she says.

"Jules Page really gets to some weird and wonderful museums," says her China Now host. Page's radio reports are nearly giddy with delight as she examines oilskin umbrellas at a museum in Hangzhou and the jade-clad shroud of King Wen at the Nanyue King Museum in Guangzhou.

Traveling to many of the autonomous regions such as Tibet has been a cherished part of her China experience, and there's a warm place in her heart for Guangdong and Shanghai, too.

She was heavily involved in reporting and broadcasting programs from the Shanghai World Expo in 2010 and "it was a great thrill" when she won an outstanding journalism award from the Shanghai Expo Organizing committee.

This week, the China Pavilion on the Expo grounds reopened as a museum.

A museum?

Well, expect Jules Page to be back there in no time.